Showing posts with label Mir Yeshiva in New York. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mir Yeshiva in New York. Show all posts


Mir Yeshiva in New York

The Mir Yeshiva in New York was a unique kind of place in that every day was a new class that was along the lines of something you would see in the book from Reb Chaim Soloveitchik or Shimon Shkop. That is:- the classes consisted of expanding the approach of Reb Chaim to every single page of Gemara.

So this gives me an idea of how to explain simply what it means to learn Gemara on a small scale. To get the basic idea you really do not need to go through the whole four year program. If you just would have one tractate of Talmud and one essay from Reb Chaim Soloveitchik or Rav Shach and go though that one essay along with the Gemara it was written on, then you would already know what it means "to know how to learn."
You might not yourself at that point "know how to learn" but you would have understood the basic idea.

Now I do not claim this deep knowledge myself. In fact, in the two books I wrote on Bava Metzia and Shas I sometimes see the kinds of trivial concerns like are like Freshman Level. Like "Why did the Maharasha write such and such a thing."  That might be slightly interesting, but it is not called "knowing how to learn." Knowing how to learn is global.  It means knowing how to calculate the sugia [subject] in front of you--so you know thoroughly the Tosphot. And then the crucial step is to know how it connects with the rest of Shas.
There are not a lot of places on that level. Mainly they are in NY (Mir Chaim Berlin, Torah VeDaat) or they are offshoots of Ponovitch in Bnei Brak.

This gives you a general idea of how education should be pursued. You should look for the highest quality. For some reason God directly my steps to almost always have teachers of the highest quality--even when I was not looking for this. If it is worth doing it is worth doing right.

[Sometimes people jump towards the global thing and are missing the first step in knowing the sugia. So I think my two books are important because they tend to combine both things. I deal at first with knowing the sugia in its place and then see how it connects with the global concerns of the rest of Shas.

If you want an equal of a Litvak Yeshiva in your home, then you only need one Shas, plus the books of Reb Chaim Soloveitchik and Rav Shach and the basic Musar books. If you also want to more mystic side of Torah after you have finished Shas twice, then what I recommend is simply to plow through the writings of the Ari (Isaac Luria) straight from beginning to end-or at least the Eitz Chaim which gives you the basic idea. But I should mention I think the Eitz Chaim goes with the idea of direct mystical awareness at least as far as the Ari was concerned. That fits with Hegel but not Kant.


Eliyahu from Vilnius

The Geon from Vilna considered learning Torah the highest service of God.
In this he was depending on statements in the Talmud (Yerushalmi Peah chapter 2). Also there is considerable support for this idea in the Zohar. The disciple of the Gra goes into this in detail in his book the Nefesh Hachaim.

.  The fact is the Gra has support from the Talmud. There is a Halacha that when there is a mitzvah that needs doing and it can't be done by someone else one should interrupt his learning of Torah to attend to that Mitzvah. And praying to God to be saved from sin and to be drawn towards His service is a mitzvah that can't be done by anyone else.

The Gra (Eliyahu from Vilnius) is someone that is not charismatic. You can't get excited about the Gra. But it is possible to get excited about the Torah.

I sadly dropped my extent of involvement with the Torah. Sure I would keep on learning to some degree, but mainly my time was taken up by kivrei tzadikim [graves of saints] and saying lots of tehilim [psalms] and the like. Anything but Torah. And I discovered and odd fact. That when one drops  Torah he can't just pick her up again when he pleases.


Lithuanian Jewish world

 Now in the book of R. Chaim from Voloshin, Nefesh HaChaim, we see a definite emphasis on learning Torah specifically.

 people make a mistake in making a tzadik and his ideas the center of attention instead of the Law of Moses which should be our focus.

But once you get the idea that the Law of Moses should be the center of our attention, it is hard to get away from the Lithuanian approach.. After all, there are lot of laws in the Old Testament and the book itself obviously requires a logical analysis. And so far I have not heard of anyone who has come up with a more rigorous logical analysis of the laws of Moses outside of the Babylonian Talmud. For example we have several verse in Exodus discussing the obligations of  a person that  guarding something and the object is lost. Another example in Shabat. Clearly we need a good definition of what it means to keep  Shabat. And in this area it looks like  that driving on Shabat is a problem because driving involves of the use of a combustion engine.

If Christians would come up with a better analysis of the Laws of Moses than the Talmud then I would be happy to discuss this. But in general Christians do not feel under the obligation to keep the laws of the Torah, and so do not spend a lot of effort in defining them.

We Jews however are under the obligation to keep the Laws of Moses and so it is in our best interest to understand how to keep them.
If there is any group that seems to take a balanced approach to Torah it seems to be Conservative Jews. Mesorati Jews seems to take these obligations more seriously than other Jewish groups.


I went to Beverly Hills High School, and then to the Mirrer Yeshiva and Polytechnic Institute of NYU.

I went to Beverly Hills High School and by all accounts I had a good time. Good grades, and good teachers, and good parents and family. I had my pick of places to go after high school: Julliard school of Music, or UCLA where I was already accepted to and other places. But I had an interest also in meaning of life issues and questions that were not addressed by secular American society. So I opted for Talmud  At the Mir you leaned Talmud all day long from the morning from 8:30 A.M. until about 11:00 PM or midnight. There was a rest period in the middle of the day for the afternoon prayer and lunch.

Incidentally we were not rich. It was just that the USA government paid a lot of money to have good engineers build the space program and my Dad happened to be a good engineer. He had come to the attention of the USA military when he invented night vision and  a U-2 camera. So they recruited him again for SDI. [He created laser communication between satellites. That was needed so the Soviets could not eavesdrop.] ]

The atmosphere and feeling at the Mir Yeshiva in NY was electric. If you had to eat lunch, you couldn't wait until you got back into the Beit Midrash [Study Hall]. The Talmud study was simply the container for a kind of Divine energy that grabbed you. If you learned there 12 hours a day, you went home feeling you did not learn enough, and you hoped to do better the next day. And this learning taught you amazing things. It taught you how to be a mensch (decent human being--which an be harder than it sounds), it taught you respect for others, and for private property. It taught you to speak the truth at all costs. This was a type of energy that was intimated connected with the natural law and human decency. It did not just teach you, but it made you into a moral and  decent human being.

 During the spring or summer breaks when I would return to Southern California, I would call a nice Jewish girl [a brilliant girl] I knew from high school and tell her about what was happening in my school in NY. This excitement rubbed off on her, and she herself decided to start keeping Torah and do mitzvas and to follow me to New York, and even start pestering me to marry her. Eventually, I gave into this because of the advice of Arye Kaplan and a Rav Getz  in the Mir . In fact, she turned out to be an excellent choice. She agreed to come with me to Israel, and  the children I have with her are as sharp as tacks. [I did not pay much attention to it at the time, but her parents were German Jews. Now things make sense why my kids are smart.]

But the world surrounding the Mir was Orthodox Judaism. And Orthodox Judaism is a cult, kelipa [a shell], and it infiltrated into the Mir.

I could have joined the Eastern cults or ashrams in those days that penetrated every aspect of life  in Southern California and no one would have raised an eyebrow.

In fact, that was the most respectable thing a person could do in those heady days. But Orthodox Judaism was considered by everyone to be plainly and simply a fanatic, lunatic, fringe group that needed immediate hospitalization. And  with the wisdom that time grants, I have come to see some points about  this evaluation are correct.